5 Best Day Trips from Rochester, NY

5 Best Day Trips from Rochester, NY

By: Eric Mees

 | 

July 14, 2022

Despite the many cool things to do in Rochester, it’s sometimes a good idea to get out of town for a day or two, which is why we’ve compiled this list of the 5 Best Day Trips from Rochester, NY. 

Because of the abundance of outdoor adventures in the region (don’t call it Upstate!), you’re probably going to want to pack your hiking boots for most of the fun getaways on our list. Plus, later on in the blog, we’ve got a sure-fire way for you to save some money on most of your upcoming adventures, too! 

Our list below includes parking/camping costs*, as well as general directions and an estimate of how long it will take to get there, so get buckled up and head out for a great day alone or with family and friends! 

1. Letchworth State Park  

Also known as “The Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park is one of the top natural attractions in central New York, or on the whole of the East Coast, for that matter. The Genesee River flows through the gorge and over three major waterfalls. The area is heavily forested and there are 66 miles of hiking trails available, as well as trails for horseback riding, biking, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. 

Want to make it a weekend? Check out the historic Glen Iris Inn or one of the other nearby lodges, or make a camping reservation. Cabins rentals are also available.  

Website: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/letchworth  

Fees: $10 per vehicle 

Camping: $27-$30 per night 

How to get to Letchworth from Rochester (approx. 45-minute drive):  

Google Maps Directions. From downtown, head east on Interstate-490, then merge onto I-590 for 4.3 miles.   Exit onto I-390 south toward Corning. In 32 miles, take exit 7 for NY-408 toward NY-63/Mt Morris/Letchworth Park.  

Follow NY-408 S and NY-36 N to Park Rd in Leicester, then in 1.9 miles, turn right onto Main Street (NY-36) and the park entrance will be 1.2 miles to the north at Park Road.  

2. Chimney Bluffs State Park

On the shores of Lake Ontario, Chimney Bluffs State Park is home to a dramatic landscape in the form of tall earthen spires. The bluffs were formed as a result of erosion and are constantly changing. Explore the bluffs and the lakeshore using approximately 4 miles of hiking trails in the area.  

Website: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/chimneybluffs/

Fees: $5 per vehicle 

How to get to Chimney Bluffs from Rochester (approx. 55-minute drive):  

Google Maps Directions. From downtown, head east on I-490 then take exit 231 to merge onto NY-590 N. In 4.4 miles, take exit 10B to merge onto NY-104 E toward Webster. In 30 miles, turn left (north) onto NY-14, then in less than a half-mile, turn right onto NY-143/Ridge Road in the town of Alton. In 3.7 miles, turn left (north) onto NY-154/Lake Bluff Road, continuing for 2.3 miles when it turns into Garner Road. After another 1.9 miles, Garner takes a hard right, and the state park will be just ahead on the left.  

3. Finger Lakes  

Whereas several of the destinations on our list are actual places, Finger Lakes is a region with a huge number of sights to see and places to visit. In total, there are 11 long, narrow lakes in the region, most of them with a north-south orientation.  

The widest of the lakes is only 3.5 miles (Cayuga Lake), while the longest two are both 31 miles (Cayuga and Seneca). Formed by receding glaciers, the lakes are also some of the deepest in the U.S. Seneca is 618 ft. at its deepest, Cayuga is 435 ft. and Skaneateles is 300 ft.   

Besides the obvious outdoor activities in the area, Finger Lakes is also the largest wine-producing region in New York State. There are more than 400 wineries in the area, many of which are open to visitors.  

Finger Lakes is also home to several museums including the Corning Museum of Glass, the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, the Strong National Museum of Play, the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, the Finger Lakes Boating Museum, the Wings of Eagles Discovery Center, the Sciencenter, the Museum of the Earth, the National Soaring Museum, the Rockwell Museum, the Seward House Museum and more. The Women’s Rights National Historic Park is in Seneca Falls, where the first convention on women’s rights was held in 1848.  

Want to dive into the specifics? Visit the website for the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance for things to do, lodging, scheduled events and trip-planning tips.  

How to get there (51 minutes to Seneca Falls from downtown) 

Google Maps Directions. A good place to start your exploration of Finger Lakes is Seneca Falls. Head east on I-490, then take I-90 east. Take exit 41 for NY-414 toward Waterloo Clyde, then keep right at the fork, follow signs for Waterloo/Seneca Falls/Montezuma Refuge and merge onto NY-414 S/Ridge Road. Turn left onto NY-318 E, then in 2.8 miles, turn right onto Gravel Rd and go south toward Seneca Falls.  

4. Niagara Falls 

As one of the most popular destinations in the world (ranked No. 14 on PlanetWare.com), Niagara Falls needs little introduction. The three falls at the end of the Niagara Gorge have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America (5.9 million cu. ft. per minute at peak flow).  

Horseshoe Falls is the largest and straddles the international border between Canada and the U.S., while American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are inside the U.S. 

There are plenty of activities around the Falls themselves, such as the Maid of the Mist boat tour, guided hikes, the Cave of the Winds, as well as Old Falls Street USA for “food, festivals and fun.”  

If you’re in for more than just a day-trip (Niagara Falls is the “Honeymoon Capital of the World”), there are several nearby hotels that offer honeymoon and romance packages.  

Website: https://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/

Fees: Parking fees vary throughout the year, and by lot.  

How to get there (1 hr, 30 min from downtown) 

Google Maps Directions. Head west from downtown on I-490 for 22 miles. Exit onto I-90 West toward Buffalo for 41.4 miles. Take exit 50 toward I-290 W and stay on for 9.5 miles. Take the exit onto I-190 N toward Niagara Falls and continue for 7.8 miles. Take exit 21 for NY-384/Buffalo Ave, then turn left onto NY-384 N/Buffalo Ave, continuing straight onto Rainbow Blvd. At the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto 1st St, continue onto Discovery Way, the turn left into the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center Parking lot.  

5. Watkins Glen 

Also located in the Finger Lakes Region is Watkins Glen. Nature types will enjoy hiking in Watkins Glen State Park, which in the course of two miles descends over 400 ft. past 200-ft. cliff walls!  And did we mention the 19 waterfalls along the way? There are also rim trails that overlook the gorge. It’s one of the most popular state parks in America, taking third place in a 2015 USA Today reader poll of more than 6,000 state parks nationwide. Campsites and rustic cabins are available if you want to turn your day-trip into a weekend or even longer! 

Website: https://parks.ny.gov/parks/watkinsglen/maps.aspx 

Fees: $10 per vehicle (includes pool) 

Camping: $18-$30 

How to get there (1 hr, 30 min from downtown) 

Google Maps Directions. Head east on I-490, then take I-90 east. In 23.7 miles, take exit 42 toward NY-14/Geneva/Lyons (briefly Continue onto NY-318 E), then turn right onto NY-14 S. In Geneva, turn right onto N Rte 14/Seneca St, then turn left onto S Main St and continue onto NY-14 S/Lochland Rd for 33.7 miles, then the park entrance will be on your right.  

Bonus: The Need for Speed 

Of course, Watkins Glen holds another attraction: Auto racing. Watkins Glen International hosts multiple races and events throughout the summer, the highlights of which include an IMSA endurance race in June, a GT World Challenge event in July, and capped off with a NASCAR Cup Series race in August. The venue also hosts track days and Drive the Glen tours (yes, you can even take a lap in the minivan). 

Drive the Glen: $30/lap 

Bonus: Saving Money on the Best Day Trips from Rochester, NY 

So, with the number of amazing state parks and historic sites in New York worth visiting more than once, it only makes sense that you’ll want to start saving money. The best way is to take advantage of the Empire Pass, or one of the other passes and programs offered through New York State Parks. At $80 a year, Empire Pass lets you get into state parks without an admission fee, pays for itself on your ninth trip, and is not tied to a specific vehicle. 

 Get the Empire Pass Here: https://parks.ny.gov/admission/empire-passport/default.aspx

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Wrapping Up the 5 Best Day Trips from Rochester, NY 

For anyone new to Rochester, or even long-time residents looking for a new adventure, it’s easy to find exciting trips around that can be taken in less than a day from the city nicknamed The Flour City.  

So, make it your best day to date by taking a fun day trip from Rochester. In review, here are our top tips that won’t have you racking up the miles (unless you keep going back!):  

What do you consider to be the best day trips from Rochester, NY? Tell us in the comments below and maybe we’ll add it to this list or just create a new blog altogether! 

*Note: All directions and mileage are rough estimates taken from downtown Rochester. All rates quoted were valid as of March 2022 and are subject to change.  

Eric Mees

Writer who also enjoys cars, guitars and Mars bars.

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